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Altered Images, Altered Minds: Vogue’s Photo Spread of Singer Adele Prompts Outrage

Just three days after walking away with six Grammys and mesmerizing audiences with her glamorous new look and spectacular performance following throat surgery– pop phenom Adele is now facing controversy.

The 23-year old London-born singer graces the current cover of Vogue magazine looking chiseled and significantly thinner than she does in real life. Inside, she appears in various poses that seem to portray another person.

Obesity researcher Charles Swencionis, Ph.D., who treats girls and women with eating disorders, says of the photos, “It makes me sad that so many people will think it’s reality. It’s porn, really.”

The photo spread has infuriated many of Adele’s fans who admire her self-confidence and consider her “real-sized” body part of her down-to-earth persona.

Dr. Swencionis, associate professor of psychology at Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and associate professor of psychiatry and of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has been studying the psychology of weight for more than 30 years. He says there’s no question in his mind that Adele’s images have been heavily altered to make her look thinner. The Vogue photos, he says, bear no resemblance to the starry-eyed young woman he watched on the Grammys Sunday night – looking thinner than she did last year and in 2008 – but not model thin.

“Someone who has a basic body shape like Adele’s can never get as thin as those photoshopped images,” he said.

Dr. Swencionis, who also maintains a private practice in Manhattan, doesn’t worry so much about Adele – who he says will probably “laugh this off” since she’s “on top of the world.” What really concerns him is the impact of such images on young women. “It makes them crazy,” he said, and often leads to eating disorders. “They diet like crazy and starve themselves thinking they can get that thin.”

He notes that eating disorders often start in adolescence and even earlier. While boys and men are impacted, two-thirds of cases he sees are female. “I’ve seen third- and fourth-grade girls on diets, it’s horrifying,” he said. “Girls are brought up on Barbie who’s unrealistically skinny and has large breasts. Girls think she’s an attainable idea but she’s not.”

Dr. Swencionis is not alone in his concerns. Last June, the American Medical Association announced its stance against advertising manipulation through processes like Photoshop, stating “A large body of literature links exposure to media-propagated images of unrealistic body image to eating disorders and other child and adolescent health problems.”

Vogue has refused to comment on the photos and Adele told 60 Minutes that she’s never looked to magazine covers for inspiration and doesn’t want to be a “Skinny-Minnie”.

Still – the reality is that fashion magazines are huge sellers and many girls and women find themselves magnetically drawn to them.

“The dividing line between fantasy and reality is much more fantastic than anyone is willing to accept,” Dr. Swencionis says.

Do you think seeing unrealistically thin images of women impacts our expectations for ourselves?

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The Doctor's Tablet Editors

The Doctor's Tablet Editors

The Doctor’s Tablet is co-edited by Paul Moniz and David Flores of Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s department of communications and public affairs.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • EGFlores February 17, 2012, 12:57 AM

    Thanks for this timely article. This sort of airbrush mania sends an insidious message to women and girls about their bodies. Fashion mags seem to encourage grown women to look like teenage boys.

  • Linda February 17, 2012, 1:47 PM

    Adele is truly beautiful, inside and out, and to airbrush her was a disservice to her and her fans. Vogue should be ashamed of themselves. I would love to see the original photo. Because this doesn’t even look like Adele.

  • Margo February 21, 2012, 3:45 PM

    I love this article! Adele is the true package–beauty, brains and talent. She does NOT need photoshopping! Like her fans think of her as thinner or even CARE about her weight? Vogue is a pretty shallow publication for doing this.